Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Picture of Dorian Gray--Blog Exclusive Review

Here's a review of The Picture of Dorian Gray at  Lifeline Theatre, the fourth play I reviewed in seven days. Oy.

It's hard to  horror onstage. There is only so far that onstage special effects can go, with the audience right there to see the trickery, and creepy camera work is impossible without a camera. Theatrical chills usually work best when they are almost or entirely in the mind of the audience. This is a lesson that would have been well learned by Lifeline Theatre's stage version of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is effective enough at setting up an unsettling atmosphere, but when the scares arrive they provoke more giggles than gasps.

The play concerns Dorian (Nick Vidal, who looks the part of the young beauty and portrays it with conviction) and his descent into depravity. A beautiful young man who fascinates all he sees, he has his portrait painted by Basil Hallward (Aaron Snook as a young man, Don Bender when older). Dorian wishes that he could always stay as young as the picture, while the picture would show the ravages of time--and it happens. 

Many of those ravages are provoked by Lord Henry Wotton (Paul S. Holmquist, younger, Sean Sinitski, older), a witty and amoral man who counsels Dorian to seek nothing but pleasure, and damn the consequences. This leads, as such things often do, to heartbreak and a few deaths, but Dorian maintains the look of the innocent 20-year-old, while the picture ages into something hideous.

Robert Kauzlaric's adaptation makes the fascinating choice of putting two people onstage for most of the characters (though not Dorian), allowing for narration as the play is going on, and the visible contrast between young men and their aged counterparts. In the early part of the first act, I was drawn in by the set-up and the storytelling. Director Kevin Theis' actors seemed to have a strong grasp of Wilde's language and the play's intricacies. But once Dorian's love affair with young actress Sibyl Vane (Melissa Nedell) went south, the hoped-for scares turned into laughs and the production went off the rails. Perhaps no onstage depiction of a horrifyingly aging portrait could match the mental image. Special effects aside, though, the acting and staging of the frightening moments suggested a campy horror movie, rather than a subtle moral chiller.

This is a problem when the real monster is a man's own slide into corruption. This production, while admirable and occasionally successful, never brought that monster to life.

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